Date set for Cr Elise Chapman, Bendigo council VCAT hearing

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BENDIGO councillor Elise Chapman has been given extra time to plan her appeal against a councillor conduct panel ruling ordering her to apologise for an obscene tweet.

Cr Chapman, Cr Peter Cox and Cr James Williams appeared by phone at a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal directions hearing in Melbourne on Thursday, where a date was set for the final hearing.

Cr Chapman is appealing an independent conduct panel ruling that she apologise for a tweet depicting children with mutilated genitals.

The tweet was sent in reply to a comment made on Twitter by a supporter of the Bendigo mosque 

Cr Cox suggested the date of October 24, which Judge Marilyn Harbison agreed would be suitable as vote counting would be occurring for the City of Greater Bendigo election and councillors would not have any duties.

But Cr Chapman argued she would not have time to plan her appeal and the date was “really unfair”.

Cr Chapman said she was yet to receive the council’s documentation to be used during the hearing, meaning it would be difficult to plan her case by the October 24 date.

“I haven’t seen anything, how am I meant to run a farm, run a family, run a campaign … when I haven’t been given anything? It’s impossible,” she said.

“I think it’s completely unfair, your honour.

“I don’t know what is going to be put forward.”

The documents must be served by September 30, the court ruled.

Cr Cox urged the tribunal to set a hearing in the week after the election, arguing the case was an appeal and there would be no new information put forward.

He said the matter had dragged out long enough.

“The offence was in February 2015, we’ve got inches of documentation,” Cr Cox said.

Cr Williams agreed, and said it needed to be finalised.

“We had a finding, and Cr Chapman chose to appeal that,” he said.

“It would be remiss to drag this out further.”

Judge Harbison chose a new date of November 14 for the hearing, set for four days at VCAT in Bendigo, despite Cr Cox’s assertions that it would be during an induction period for the new council.

Judge Harbison said there would be no more delays, and told Cr Chapman “this matter will go ahead if you are ready or not”.

“I don’t think you have any excuse to not have obtained solicitors before today,” she said.

“There will not be grounds for another adjournment if you do not have solicitors or they are not ready.

“I do accept that this matter has been unduly drawn out.”

The tribunal also heard Cr Chapman and the City of Greater Bendigo reached a confidential out-of-court settlement earlier this month regarding court costs for the VCAT matter.

Cr Chapman had attempted to have the council cover her legal fees. She is now representing herself at VCAT after the Magistrates’ Court settlement.

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